Paris has a way of romancing visitors, whether the sun is shining on the café terraces of Boulevard Saint-Germain or the Seine River’s melancholy mists are shrouding Notre-Dame Cathedral. The love affair may begin with a first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, followed by strolls along wide tree-lined avenues and in lavish formal gardens.
The beauty of the city entices visitors. Each quarter (neighborhood) has its own distinct appeal. The Latin Quarter is an enthralling maze of medieval pedestrian streets and narrow alleyways. The chic Champs-Élysées is alive with energy and style. Montmartre, just outside of Paris, exudes old-world village charm and boasts a bohemian past.
After seeing the museums and monuments, tourists should look for the small surprises, such as family-run restaurants with handwritten menus; cobblestone lanes lined with quaint boutiques; secluded squares adorned with flowing fountains; and elegant tea salons with dainty jewel-like pastries beckoning from pastry cases.
Paris casts a spell of enchantment in every hidden corner and at all the famous sites. A single visit could spark a lifelong interest.
With our list of the top tourist attractions, you can discover what makes the city so appealing and learn about the fascinating places to visit.
Table of Contents
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre, a sumptuous palace that was once home to France’s kings, is the most important of Paris’ top museums. Visitors enter the museum through the glass pyramid in the palace courtyard (designed by Ieoh Ming Pei in 1917). The Louvre houses 35,000 artworks (many of which are considered masterpieces) ranging from antiquities to European paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
It is impossible to see everything in one visit, but tourists can concentrate on a specific gallery, such as classical sculpture, Italian Renaissance art, or 17th-century French paintings, or take a self-guided tour to see the highlights of the Louvre Museum.
The Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda (or La Joconde in French), was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503-1505. Many visitors rush through the museum just to see this one piece, but even if time is limited, there are many other must-see works of art to admire.
The ancient Venus de Milo sculpture; the monumental Victory of Samothrace of the Hellenistic period; Veronese’s massive Wedding Feast at Cana painting (1563); Botticelli’s Young Lady with Venus and the Graces fresco; and Liberty Leading the People (1831) by Eugène Delacroix, depicting the Parisian uprising of July 1830, are among the Louvre’s top highlights.
Tourists should take a guided tour of the Louvre to get the most out of their visit. The Louvre Museum Skip the Line Tour directs visitors to the museum’s most famous works of art, including the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. A guide (an art historian) provides in-depth commentary about the masterpieces during this three-hour tour.
The Jardin des Tuileries, one of Paris’s most beautiful parks, surrounds the Louvre on one side. The Tuileries Gardens were designed by celebrated landscape architect André Le Nôtre in the 17th-century formal French style, with perfectly manicured trees, statues, and pathways. Park benches and café-restaurants with outdoor seating invite visitors to sit back and relax while taking in the scenery.
The Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel) is the most visited tourist attraction in the world and ranks high on the list of places to visit in France. It’s difficult to believe that when it was first unveiled, the structure was dismissed as a monstrosity. Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel designed the iconic tower for the 1889 Paris Exhibition, which commemorated the centennial of the French Revolution.
The tower is made up of 18,000 strong iron sections (weighing more than 10,000 tons) held together by 2.5 million rivets. This innovative structure is now regarded as a masterful architectural feat and is the most recognizable landmark in Paris. The tower, which stood 324 meters tall, was the world’s tallest building until the Empire State Building was built.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time is an unforgettable experience for first-time visitors. Many visitors are taken aback when they arrive at the esplanade (where the Information Desk is located) and see the four massive pillars that support this 10,100-ton monument.
To reach the first level (57 meters), take the elevator or walk up the 360 steps. This level includes public restrooms, a gift shop, a cafeteria, a brasserie restaurant, and outdoor seating to take in the scenery.
The second level (115 meters) of the Eiffel Tower is reached from the first level via a 344-step staircase or an elevator ride. This level has similar amenities to the first level, with the exception that the viewing platforms provide a view of more Paris landmarks (such as Notre-Dame, the Louvre, and the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur), and this level has a fine-dining restaurant.
Le Jules Verne, a Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant, serves exquisite meals of refined contemporary French cuisine in a spectacular setting. The dining rooms at the restaurant have large windows that provide a view of the Eiffel Tower’s structural beams and look out onto Paris’ cityscapes.
To get to the top level, at a dizzying elevation of 276 meters, an exhilarating elevator ride from the second level is required. One of the most thrilling things to do in Paris is to visit the top level, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Tourists will want to spend some time photographing Paris’ most iconic monument. There is just the right distance for picture-perfect photo ops from either the Jardins du Trocadéro (a short walk across the Seine River) or the Parc du Champ de Mars (the lawns in front of the tower).
In the converted Gare d’Orsay, the Musée d’Orsay houses a magnificent collection of 19th- and 20th-century art (created between 1848 and 1914). This Belle Epoque railway station was constructed for the 1900 Universal Exhibition.
The museum’s expansive galleries house some of the world’s most treasured paintings. The Orsay Museum is one of the best places to visit in Paris for an overview of Impressionist art history, from Monet’s gentle brush strokes to Gauguin’s wild, colorful scenes.
The collection includes works by all of Impressionism’s masters. The artists range from classic Impressionist masters like Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Pierre-August Renoir to Post-Impressionists like Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh, Pointillists like Georges Seurat, and Bohemian artists like Toulouse Lautrec.
Claude Monet’s The Magpie, Gare Saint-Lazare, Poppy Field, and Luncheon on the Grass; Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait and Starry Night; and Renoir’s Dance at Moulin de la Galette, which depicts a festive party scene in Montmartre, are among the museum’s most famous works.
The museum also has a bookstore and gift shop, two cafés, and a fine-dining restaurant that is well worth the extra money. The museum’s restaurant, which was formerly the Hôtel d’Orsay (a luxury hotel within the original Gare d’Orsay) and is now a Historic Monument, has gilded ceilings and sparkling chandeliers.
Place de la Concorde
This impressive octagonal square, designed by King Louis XV’s architect between 1755 and 1775, is located in the heart of 18th-century Paris. The Place de la Concorde, with its majestic dimensions, is one of the city’s most appealing squares. It was the site of several significant historical events, including King Louis XVI’s execution, and it was part of Napoleon’s triumphal route.
The square provides breathtaking views of the triumphal route leading to the Arc de Triomphe and the Défense, as well as the Louvre, the Madeleine, and the Palais-Bourbon. The Viceroy of Egypt presented Charles X with an Egyptian obelisk in the center. During the summer, a Ferris wheel is located here.
The Place de la Concorde is a congested intersection with fast-moving traffic. Tourists should be aware that French drivers do not always pay attention to pedestrians, so make sure to move out of the way!
To get to the Place de la Concorde, take the Jardin du Tuileries or the Rue du Rivoli from the Louvre, or follow the Quai along the Seine River. Take the Métro to Concorde station instead.
Seine River Cruises
A boat ride down the Seine River is one of the best ways to take in the allure of Paris. Tourists can see the sights from a different perspective by taking a Seine River Cruise. From a riverboat, the Seine River bridges, Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and Louvre Museum are breathtaking.
While a daytime cruise allows tourists to appreciate the splendor of the monuments as they are illuminated by the sun, an evening cruise is the most romantic experience. After sunset, the city’s landmarks are illuminated, creating a unique effect and making the city appear more magical.
Try the Bateaux Parisiens Seine River Gourmet Dinner & Sightseeing Cruise for a dinner cruise. This opulent riverboat cruise departs from Port de la Bourdonnais (near the Eiffel Tower) and includes a gourmet three-course meal.
The Panthéon, designed as a church to rival Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, is the national mausoleum of France’s greatest citizens. The architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-80) was commissioned by King Louis XV in 1756 to build a new church on the site of the ruined abbey of Sainte-Geneviève, and the church was completed in 1790.
The architecture of the Panthéon departs from the playful Rococo of the Louis XV style in favor of a simpler and more solemn Neoclassical style. The inscription on the Panthéon’s facade reads “Aux Grands Hommes la Patrie reconnaisante,” implying that the monument was originally dedicated solely “to the great men who are recognized by their country.”
Many famous men, including philosophers Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and René Descartes, as well as writers Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola, and André Malraux, are buried here (over 70 in total).
Since 1995, several of France’s most illustrious female citizens, including physicist Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel Prize winner, have been buried in the Panthéon. At the Panthéon, five other women are buried.
Visitors can ascend to the Panthéon’s dome from April to October (for an additional fee), where a colonnaded balcony provides a spectacular view of the city’s landmarks. From the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Louvre in the foreground to the Eiffel Tower in the distance, panoramas stretch.
Place de Vosges
The Place des Vosges in Paris’ charming Marais district is the city’s oldest public square, spaciously laid out in a harmoniously uniform style. This elegant square served as a model for others, including Place Vendôme and Place de la Concorde.
The Place des Vosges was built between 1605 and 1612 and was originally known as Place Royale because it was surrounded by aristocratic residences. The square has a pleasing symmetrical form, typical of Renaissance architecture, with uniform houses of red brick, stone detailing, and pitched slate roofs.
In the 17th century, the Place de Vosges provided a magnificent setting for festive occasions such as tournaments, state receptions, and court weddings. Despite Cardinal Richelieu’s ban on dueling, it was also a popular location for duels. The famous courtesan of Louis XIII’s reign lived at number 11, and the future Madame de Sévigné was born at number 1 on the square in 1626.
The Place des the Vosges is located in the historic district of Le Marais, which is home to medieval and Renaissance palaces. The Musée National Picasso-Paris (5 Rue de Thorigny) in one of the neighborhood’s stately mansions, the Hôtel Salé, dazzles modern art lovers with its incredibly extensive collection (over 5,000 pieces) of Picasso’s artwork, including some of his most iconic masterpieces.
The Marais has become a trendy neighborhood with a sizable Jewish population. Tourists can learn more about Jewish culture in Europe by visiting the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judasme (71 Rue du Temple), which presents the 2,000-year history of France’s Jewish communities as well as educational programs about Jewish culture and exhibitions of artwork by Jewish artists such as Chagall and Modigliani.
The Jardin Anne Frank is a tranquil, secluded garden with an orchard nearby. The Mariage Frères (30 Rue du Bourg Tibourg) is the place to go for a refined Parisian experience. This tea salon serves aromatic tea with savory and sweet delicacies, and its adjoining shop sells a wide selection of Paris’ finest teas.
Many tourists queue to try the authentic falafel at L’As du Fallafel (34 Rue des Rosiers), one of Paris’ best Middle Eastern restaurants. L’As du Fallafel, located in the heart of Paris’ Jewish quarter, is closed on Shabbat (Friday evening and Saturday during the daytime).
It’s also worth noting that the Marais neighborhood around the Rue des Rosiers is home to a Jewish community known as the “Pletzl” (a Yiddish word that means “Small Square”). There are several kosher restaurants and bakeries in this area. Furthermore, because Jewish residents of the Marais observe the Sabbath on Saturday rather than Sunday, many boutique owners keep their shops open on Sundays.
Jules Hardouin-Mansart, a leading architect of the Grand Siècle, designed this graceful 17th-century square (during the reign of Louis XIV). Originally known as Place Louis le Grand, the square was designed to house royal establishments. However, due to financial constraints, the king was forced to sell the buildings to nobles and wealthy citizens. Beautiful mansions with courtyards and gardens were built by the new owners.
The Place Vendôme’s allure stems from the fact that it has maintained the overall design’s consistency, which combines regal ostentation with civic simplicity. It was meticulously restored in the early 1990s and has been returned to its former glory.
The square is well-known for its upscale jewelry stores such as Boucheron, Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Cartier. The Ritz Hotel, which was frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, is another luxurious establishment in town.
Coco Chanel lived at the Ritz Paris for 34 years, and her suite was decorated in her signature chic style, with velvet-upholstered sofas, lacquered furniture, and gilded mirrors. The Ritz Paris still has a Coco Chanel suite that embodies her vision of Parisian chic.
The Colonne de la Grande Armée, a historic landmark, stands in the center of the Place Vendôme (replacing a statue of Louis XIV that was removed in 1792). The 42-meter-high column was built between 1806 and 1810 and is dedicated to Napoleon and his Grande Armée (army) who fought heroically and victoriously in the Battle of Austerlitz (in December 1805).
The facade of the column is made of bronze plaques embossed with 108 spiraling bas-relief friezes (similar to the Trajan’s Column in Rome), which tell the story of Napoleon’s 1805 campaign.
The Louvre Museum opposite is a welcome respite for tourists in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Paris’ 1st arrondissement. This secluded location is a hidden getaway in the heart of the city.
During the reign of Louis XIII, the Palais-Royal was built as a residence for Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu later bequeathed the palace to the royal family, and it became Louis XIV’s childhood home.
The Palais Royal exemplifies classical French architecture, with 60 pavilions surrounding a courtyard and a lovely garden, the Jardin du Palais-Royal. The contemporary sculpture installation in the courtyard astounds visitors, as do the lush tree-shaded grounds. This tranquil enclosed space has the feel of a small village within the city.
A colonnaded pathway connects the buildings, as do arcaded galleries (verandas) filled with high-end boutiques. There are also a few fancy cafés (with lovely outdoor terraces) and two fine-dining restaurants: the haute-cuisine Restaurant du Palais Royal (one Michelin star); and Le Grand Véfour, which has a sumptuous dining room (dating from 1784) with delicate “art décoratif” design motifs.
The Palais-Royal has two theaters: the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, which presents French-language theater performances, and the Comédie-Française, also known as the “Maison de Molière” because it has staged many of the famous playwright’s works. The Comédie-Française, which opened in 1790, is still in use during the theater season.
The Palais-Royal, a popular spot for locals to take a leisurely stroll, is free to the public every day. The National Monuments Centre provides guided group tours.
Place de la Bastille
Only the name of this square now serves as a reminder that the infamous state prison known as the Bastille, a despised symbol of absolutist power, once stood here. The prison was completely demolished after the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
The 51-meter-high Colonne de Juillet stands in the center of Place de la Bastille, topped by a graceful gilded figure of Liberty (“Génie de la Liberté”). The monument commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which deposed King Charles X and installed Louis-Philippe d’Orléans as King of France.
The free people of France are represented by four Gallic cocks and a lion relief at the base of the column. A 283-step spiral staircase inside the column leads to a viewing platform.
The new Opera House, the Opéra Bastille, was inaugurated by President Mitterrand on July 13, 1989, on the site of the Bastille prison. This massive modern theater seats 2,745 people. The view of the stage from the auditorium, as well as the acoustics, are both excellent.
From February to July, the Opéra Bastille hosts a calendar of events that includes classic opera and ballet performances by the Opéra National de Paris and the Corps de Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris.
Tourists may enjoy attending a performance and then exploring the Bastille area. This hip neighborhood is teeming with quirky boutiques, trendy clothing stores, stylish restaurants, and happening cafés.